- Bill Clinton is widely credited with having turned the cigar into an erotic emblem, but Charlotte Brontë got there first, in Villette: “Her heroine, a plain-faced and seemingly colorless 23-year-old school teacher named Lucy Snowe finds herself falling in love with her choleric Belgian colleague. Unsurprisingly, Paul Emanuel is a dark-haired, blue-eyed cigar smoker … One evening, Lucy steals softly into a deserted classroom to discover Emanuel immersed in her desk. ‘His olive hand held my desk open, his nose was lost to view amongst my papers.’ The reader is startled at the brazen snooping, but Lucy is unperturbed. She has known all along ‘that that hand of M. Emanuel’s was on the most intimate terms with my desk; that it raised and lowered the lid, ransacked and arranged the contents, almost as familiarly as my own … they smelt of cigars.’ ”
- Today in cattle rustling: it’s still a thing. Matt Wolfe knows. He went to Texas and rode along with the cow police: “Lawmen and rustlers now find themselves reenacting a centuries-old drama, one central to the creation myth of the American frontier. If the cowboy was the great American folk hero, the cattle rustler was his villainous twin … In Texas, when a cow or bull is reported stolen, the case is assigned to one of twenty-seven men, the employees of a trade group called the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association … ‘These days, we got more rustlers than you can say grace over,’ [Ranger Wayne] Goodman told me. ‘It used to be you didn’t catch a rustler that didn’t know cattle, or at least have some kind of agriculture in their background. Now, what with the drought, it doesn’t take much skill. Cows are so thirsty you can lead them into a trailer with just a bucket of water.’ ”
- A collection of smutty engravings from the late eighteenth century reveals that people fornicated then in much the same way they do now. Sad. You’d think we’d have made some minor advancements since then. In fact, these engravings are based on engravings from the fourteenth century, so we’ve been in a rut for even longer. At least the book has a good long title: L’Arétin d’Augustin Carrache ou Recueil de Postures Érotiques, d’Après les Gravures à l’Eau-Forte par cet Artiste Célèbre, Avec le Texte Explicatif des Sujets (The ‘Aretino’ of Agostino Carracci, or a collection of erotic poses, after Carracci’s engravings, by this famous artist, with the explicit texts on the subject).
- There’s not much to look forward to in this life, but we can take solace, at least, in the mini-golf courses of tomorrow. Coming soon to Trafalgar Square: “As part of the London Design Festival, which runs September 17 through 25, a number of international designers and architects have submitted plans for a nine-hole mini-golf course … London-based architecture practice Ordinary Architecture have designed a large cross-section of a pigeon that reveals its anatomy to illustrate how the bird’s digestive system works; players aim golf balls through its mouth and watch as they roll through its guts before popping out through its butt. The rendering by Hat Projects and Tim Hunkin is also pretty fun: envisioned as a high-rise building under construction (the future will include no sky!), the towering course will deposit poorly aimed balls into containers with labels such as ‘Affordable Housing,’ ‘Bankruptcy,’ and ‘Abandoned Dreams.’ On the other hand, if your aim is true, a contraption will pour you a glass of whiskey.”
- While we’re in London: it’s a great place to walk around at night. “In the darkness,” Matthew Beaumont writes, “above all perhaps in familiar or routine places, everything acquires a subtly different form or volume. Even the ground beneath one’s feet feels slightly different. Ford Madox Ford lamented in The Soul of London (1905) that, ‘little by little, the Londoner comes to forget that his London is built upon real earth: he forgets that under the pavements there are hills, forgotten water courses, springs, and marshlands’. It is not the same in the dead of night. At two A.M., in the empty streets, no longer fighting against the traffic of cars and commuters, the solitary pedestrian’s feet begin to recall the ‘real earth’ … The nighttime self, moreover, is another self. In ‘Street Haunting’ (1930), Virginia Woolf quietly celebrated ‘the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow’. ‘We are no longer quite ourselves’, she observed.”
Thanks to a three-day flu I read Rebecca Wolff’s witchy coming-of-age novel The Beginners, then stayed up late reading the rest of Jennifer Egan’s juggernaut A Visit From the Goon Squad (it lives up to the New Yorker excerpts), then started rereading Geoff Dyer’s deeply charming book on photography, The Ongoing Moment, plus a bunch of his old magazine pieces, now newly collected in Otherwise Known as the Human Condition … all worth a good deal of coughing and sneezing. —Lorin Stein
I picked up Lydia Davis’s The Cows, a chapbook about, well, the cows that live across from her. “She moos toward the wooded hills behind her, and the sound comes back. She moos in a high falsetto before the note descends abruptly, or she moos in a falsetto that does not descend. It is a very small sound to come from such a large, dark animal.” —Thessaly La Force
Amid the impeccably constructed drama of the last of John Updike’s Rabbit novels, Rabbit at Rest, sits an unforgettable line about how popular culture produces and reproduces itself, one generation after another: “They lead us down the garden path, the music manufacturers, then turn around and lead the next generation down with a slightly different flavor of glop.” —Rosalind Parry